Sustainability, Democracy, Pedagogy: On Locating Ourselves in Dark Time
What kind of pedagogy could possibly be adequate to the crises of our times: global ecological disaster, intensification of deep poverty across the world, concentration of corporate power and the concomitant blows to democratic initiative and power, and an increasingly totalizing global form of civilization that depends upon detaching human beings from their practical and spiritual relationship to the living world? In this article, I argue that pedagogy today must be engaged in the following sense: it must teach the skills and cultivate an ethos of democratic organizing, freeing the powers, as Jane Addams put it, so that our energies and talents create a gathering storm. To do this, faculty, staff and administrators must rework our own capacities, creating novel collaborative structures in which to teach and to learn the pleasures and arts of making common cause. This pedagogy goes beyond service learning and makes a unique contribution to the growing practices and pedagogies of civic engagement. I develop these arguments through a close discussion of the design and pedagogy of the engaged learning project we launched last fall at Northern Arizona University. Wildly successful, this project brings first year students, graduate students, faculty, and community partners together in seven multi-aged community-based Action Research Teams (ARTs) to work on issues of sustainability. Both undergraduate and graduate course work and the teams are anchored in a strong tradition of community organizing that to date has almost no foothold at institutions of higher learning.